Monday, August 30, 2010

Just keep remembering it's not goodbye
Tom Smith

This last weekend Jeanne and I dropped Luke off at college.  He's going to USD where I am a professor, but living in the dorms.  USD prides itself on being the very opposite of the big, impersonal state university where the minnow is dropped off into the ocean and you hope for the best.  There was a whole program for the parents, intended to reassure us that they were really, really going to take care of our kids.  It was well organized, the weather was beautiful, his room was quite nice, his suite mates seemed like great kids, many from Texas and thereabouts.  It would have been worse without these things, but I would still describe my emotional state over the weekend as vacillating between paralyzed numbness and grief.

This is another one no one warned me about.  This summer had been very busy for us.  Our four boys were involved in various activities and even with Luke driving it seemed to me I always had to be taking somebody somewhere or picking them up.  I knew the time was coming when Luke would  be moving out but I guess I didn't quite appreciate that it would be a big deal.  He's attending the college where I work, so I thought he is really not far away.  I did not think of it as in fact it is -- that before we all lived under the same roof, and now we don't.  I drank most of a bottle of chardonnay because I didn't have any scotch.  Take my advice, and lay some in.

On Sunday there was a Mass for new students and parents.  It was the most beautiful Mass I had been to in a long, long time.  The music was wonderful, the homily was thoughtful, the kids looked happy and the parents looked I thought mostly rather stricken.  At the end our celebrant said there was a custom from Catholic Mexico of blessing a child before he went out into the world, so he led us through that.  I got maybe half the words out; Jeanne, none.  Walking back to Luke's room we saw a mom and her son hugging next to a car with Florida or Texas plates.  Each was hugging the other and it was clear neither had an exit strategy.  Mom was crying and saying something about Christmas break.  Christmas. Jesus.

I know it's a good thing.  It's a privilege and a success to send your son off to college.  You certainly wouldn't want him just staying at home playing video games or watching TV.  Growing up and moving out is a major objective.  I just don't like it.  What I want to be really is Ben Cartwright on my own Ponderosa.  The boys would help me work the ranch and if any bad guys showed up, we could kill them together.  If any of them got married, there would be plenty of room in the big house or if need be, lots of good, solid pine to build rooms out for the young'uns.  That's the way to do it.

I have a theory about why it is so hard.  Your son (maybe it's the same for daughters) is probably the best friend you have.  American men are notoriously poor at making friends, but be that as it may, father and son probably have common interests, sports, warfare, or in Luke's and my cases, politics and martial arts.  Then just as your son is really becoming an adult, off he goes.  And you stand there thinking, wait a damn minute.  You go through the motions like you know what you're doing.  They say it gets easier and I hope they're right.

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Tom Smith



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Posted by: Adam Kolber | Aug 31, 2010 7:35:23 AM

This made me cry. My son is 13, so it's coming for me too.

Posted by: kwh9 | Aug 31, 2010 8:12:51 AM

Thanks Tom. I keep telling myself that I am excited for Anna and I really am, but I really hope this year goes slowly.

Posted by: Trish | Aug 31, 2010 9:55:50 AM

Tom - I think I understand this. I have gotten so that I hate all these things where we note the passage of time - birthdays, new year's, first day of school, last day of school, etc. I think this is because I don't want my boys (12 & 10) to leave and these types of events force me to confront that that inevitable day is coming.

Posted by: Hank Archer | Aug 31, 2010 10:19:16 AM

One of my best friends from when I was in the Peace Corps was an undergrad at USD- he seemed to get a quite solid education there. I worry, though, that you'll get the worst of both worlds with him living in the dorms there- he's out of sight, so can do what he wants more easily, but close enough that he's likely to bring his laundry home, eat your food, and steal house-hold goods rather than buying them himself.

Bonanza was okay, but I always liked The Big Valley more.

Posted by: Matt Lister | Aug 31, 2010 10:48:15 AM

Buck up, man. Some of us stand and watch as our son and daughter disappear into West Point, where they assure parents and candidates of something quite other than what USD tried to reassure you regarding. And the first photo comes home and your son has shed 10-15 pounds from a tall already lanky frame, and he has the loneliest, most heart-breaking look in his eyes. You can't even imagine how that makes a father feel.

Then you get to wave them off to war to be shot at by people their so-called c-in-c favors over them and has no American reason for making them go off. You can't imagine how that makes a father feel, either.

You don't know what pain is, sir. Neither uncertainty.

Posted by: David R. Graham | Aug 31, 2010 11:05:58 AM

What we really want to know is what heartfelt but sage fatherly advice you gave him. Come on, man, own up.

Posted by: dearieme | Aug 31, 2010 11:39:07 AM

West Point would be much, much worse as would any sending off of a son or daughter into the military. I have no idea how parents stand it and that's one of the reasons I honor the service of these families so much.

D-- I fear I didn't have any sage fatherly advice. All I had was, don't flaunt your right wing views before your professors, who are unlikely to share them; I stressed that shaving, showering and wearing clean clothes are essential to attracting the fairer sex. I probably mentioned various times that doing well in college was necessary to doing the things he has said he'd like to do. (He currently wants to work for the FBI, DEA or some place like that.) Advice was usually met with eye rolling etc. so I didn't give as much as I'm sure I could have.

Posted by: Tom Smith | Aug 31, 2010 12:21:59 PM

What I really wanted was an excuse to tell you the advice my father gave me.
"Take out English girls - you can afford beer but not whisky."

Posted by: dearieme | Aug 31, 2010 12:51:07 PM

If he wants to work for the FBI or the DEA, the best thing he could study would be accounting. That might put him off of it. He might consider taking a class from Matt Zwolinski, a very good younger philosopher there that he might like. (I don't know Zwolinski personally at all- only from his work- but that's quite good.)

Posted by: Matt Lister | Aug 31, 2010 1:06:18 PM

With ya in all respects -- my eldest and only boy is off to FSU this past week. Scotch I have, fortunately. Catholic roommate. They even went to Mass last week, or so he tells me, or his mother, anyway.

Oh, look, another bottle ...

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Posted by: discount vibram fivefingers | Sep 2, 2010 12:59:19 AM

Awww! That made me tear up and I'm a single childless professor (but one great uncle!).

I'll try to be good the freshmen tomorrow in honor of you and Luke.

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